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Graphic novel reviews

The problem is this:

I can't really be objective when it comes to Jaime Hernandez's comics work. Hell, most of the time I can't even be coherent. Mention his name and I'll start drooling about him being the "greatest cartoonist in the world" and other such fanboy waffle. So when I tell you that his latest graphic novel The Love Bunglers (Fantagraphics, £14.99) may be the greatest thing he's ever done, you can treat that with appropriate caution.

Even so, I think I'm still right. For 30 years now Hernandez has been imagining the life of Maggie Chascarillo, a one-time Latina punk turned middle-aged landlady and delineating it in his clean-lined, crisp, unfussy, utterly gorgeous pencils. The Love Bunglers follows the latest stage of her on-off relationship with Ray Dominguez. It jumps back and forth in time, from Maggie's messy childhood to her becalmed, slightly overweight present, eventually drawing both time periods together with possibly tragic consequences.

There's a danger here. A danger that some 30 years of continuity might be difficult to fathom if you've not read Hernandez's work before. A danger, too, that you might find the plot too melodramatic as it violently plays out family history.

That depends, I guess, on whether you find melodrama intrinsically problematic. And the fact is Hernandez is so capable a cartoonist that the weight of his world is apparent in every line. Even if you don't pick up every nuance here you'll still tune into the emotional richness of his world. And then there's that two-page spread near the end. Two pages, nine wordless panels on each, that effectively encapsulate Maggie and Ray's lives since childhood to middle age. It is magnificent (fanboy waffle, but I don't care; it is) and when you read it in the story it hits like a hammer.

Every other graphic novel out at the moment pales into insignificance by comparison, which is a pity because some of them are good. Beautiful Darkness by husband-and-wife Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn & Quarterly, £15.99) is a potent dark thing full of candy-coloured pixie figures and real-world decay. The result is a poisoned apple of a fairy tale.

Michael DeForge's Ant Colony (Drawn & Quarterly, £14.99) is just as vicious. The story of a dying black ant colony, it is packed with full-on vicious ant battles, insect sex and a sense of humour that is one part Woody Allen to two parts David Lynch. And the art is ugly-beautiful.

In comparison, NJ Culbard's Celeste (Self Made Hero, £15.99) is more conventional, or as much as a science fiction story can be when it's about what it might be like to be the last people on Earth when everyone else has just disappeared. B-movie plotting can't spoil the ambition in play here.

As yet none of the above feature in Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner's Comics: A Global History, 1968 To The Present (Thames & Hudson, £19.95).

It's an ambitious survey that at times threatens to descend into list-making, but it's worth reading for the wealth of graphic novels it draws attention to.

New readers start here. But only after you've read The Love Bunglers.

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